Becoming Known


by
Tisienne Blue



Part Nine



From: TheXanMan
To: NotBroodingJustThinking
Subject: I’m in Hell

Christ, Spike. This just sucks.

I know I said maybe a week, but it looks like this trip might take longer.

Shit, I guess I should start at the beginning, huh?

We were only a day out of Sunnydale and Dawn was pissed.

Then again, that’s not really a big shock, huh? Her brother-figure drugged her and it was her sister who wanted it to happen… and then she found out that I wasn’t stupid enough not to frisk her while she was out.

Did you know Dawn had a taser, Spike?

Well, she did. I have one now.

Anyway, I’d been driving for close to twenty hours. Figured it would be a good idea to get as much distance between home and us as possible—just so Dawn wouldn’t get any bright ideas about hitching back, and that’s when it happened.

I pulled over at a truck stop on I-40 because… well, you know me. Snack food was gone and what can I say? The Xan Man travels on his stomach, right?

God, Spike… we saw it. Right there on the TV. Sunnydale.

It’s just a hole, Spike! It was… God, it was a town full of people and stores, and… and now it’s a fucking HOLE! I…

Shit.

We didn’t eat after all.

Fuck, I don’t know what to do. It’s been three days since then and Dawn’s finally stopped crying but now she just seems… numb. She must have read the letter Buffy wrote at least fifty times, but…

Shit.

Shit, Spike, I… I don’t know. It’s all so fucked up.

We’re in Missouri now—Jefferson City—and I… fuck.

It’s gonna take us a while to get the rest of the way, okay? Turns out… when a whole town disappears, well… let’s just say my Sunnydale Savings and Loan debit card isn’t working so well right now.

I could tell you not to worry but I have a feeling you’d ignore that anyway, so why bother, right? But we’ll get there. I promise you that much. I… Hell, Spike, there’s nowhere else for us to go until we hear something from… someone.

Shit, this sucks! I don’t—we don’t—even know if they’re alive, Spike! There’s no way to call them or reach them or anything, and I tried sending Willow an e-mail right before this one, so all I can do is hope she gets it and writes back, but God, I’m so… fuck. Scared. I’m scared.

What if they’re all gone? What if we’re alone in this? What if… God, Spike, I’m so not ready to raise Dawn. And that’s assuming anyone wants to let me! I mean, okay, I have that notarized letter from Buffy, and God knows where she managed to find a notary when everyone was running away from Sunnydale, but she did, so I have the letter and it says I can do whatever I have to to keep Dawny safe, but…

Fuck, I’m barely old enough to manage my own life, much less a sixteen year old girl’s, and… shit.

Sorry. I know you can’t do anything about any of this. I just… Christ, I needed to vent, I guess, and I feel better now.

Not gonna get up and dance a jig, but I think I’ll be able to look at Dawn and not fight to keep from screaming.

This is so not fair to her, Spike. None of it. She’s just a kid, for fuck’s sake! And she’s lost her Mother, lost her home, maybe lost her sister, and what’s left? Some incompetent guy who can’t even manage to get her to someplace safe. Yeah. And I already covered the ‘what if’ stuff, so…

Sorry again. It’s just been a bad—and that word so isn’t strong enough; let’s try another. It’s been a really fucked up, shitty, horrible couple of days. I’ll get over it. Swear.

Look, the Library’s about to close, so I have to go. Got an oh-so-fun dishwashing job to get to. Guess all those craptastic career choices back home are coming in handy, huh? Of course, it’s not exactly a highly skilled position, right?

Shit.

I wish I had something good to tell you, other than… we’re alive, we’re gonna manage. And we’ll get there as soon as we can, okay? I’d ask you to call us at the motel but there’s no phone in our room, so…

Okay. Really going now. I’ll be in touch as soon as I know when we’ll be on the road again.

Xander


He hated leaving Dawn alone, even if she was right there in the diner. He was stuck back in the tiny dingy kitchen while she flipped disinterestedly through the discarded newspaper that had been laying on the counter.

Only two more hours and his shift would be over and maybe… maybe he’d have enough for a full tank of gas. Even if it wouldn’t be enough to get them to Philadelphia, it would get them closer, and… every little bit helped.

He was almost completely sure that Dawn would feel a little bit better once they got to Spike’s.

Hell, she wasn’t the only one.


~*~*~*~*~


Finally, they reached the motel and got to their room… and if Xander brought a certain pillow inside and held it for comfort while Dawn tossed and turned on the other bed, then he figured that was his own business.

He didn’t know he dreamed. Didn’t know he was smiling in his sleep.

And if anyone had told him he was smiling because of the dream—which involved a pair of cool, pale arms wrapped around him and holding him safe…? He would have told them they were on drugs, no matter what was in his secret heart of hearts.

It was a secret he kept from himself too, after all.





Part Ten

And bloody hell, it just kept getting better and better. In the most sarcastic sense possible, Spike knew.

Xander and Dawn were stuck in some bloody city that he had no way of getting to, he couldn’t call them because apparently Sunnydale had… sank? …imploded? … whatever.

And Spike had known it even while it happened, or sort of. He’d felt Angel… die.

It still hurt a bit, even days later. He and the broody fuck had never really gotten on, but they’d still been… connected. And then Angel was gone, and Sunnydale, too, and…

It had all gone boom, and somewhere in there something had happened to Xander’s cell phone because when he tried, he kept getting that bloody annoying bint telling him that the number had been ‘temporarily disconnected’.

He supposed he should just be glad that the bloke had taken the time to e-mail him from that sodding Library, but it wasn’t the same as knowing what was going on and it had been close to a week since that e-mail and nothing!

He hadn’t been willing to leave his flat for anything other than blood, just on the off chance that he’d miss another letter and be able to reply before Xander had to go again, but it hadn’t bloody well happened and he figured if he hadn’t already been crazy, the whole situation would have made him so.

The extra time did have an upside but it was remarkably tiny, as far as Spike was concerned. When Xander and the Bit finally arrived, they’d discover that in just a month and a half, they’d all be moving into the two bedroom unit on the top floor that had come available rather suddenly.

He’d managed to get the landlord to let him have it equally suddenly, too, making the effort simply because there wasn’t the slightest chance that two blokes and one teenaged girl could ever manage to share a bathroom for long without coming to blows. And if he’d had to… convince the bloke, it was worth it. He’d get the taste out of his mouth eventually.

His neighbor Kent was even going to do the place up for them—free of charge—and that was a sodding enormous gift right there, seeing as the bloke was an award winning interior designer. A bit swish, but still bloody good at his craft.

Besides, if the place was all nice and stylish-like, it would look better if—when, he reminded himself—the old Scooby Gang showed up to reclaim their missing members, assuming they took their time about it. Or to collect Dawn, at least. He was hoping Xander might want to stay on.

Hell, he was hoping the others had made it out, even if Xander left with them, too, and it wouldn’t do to let his friend and the young girl who was like a sister to him think that he wasn’t optimistic… even if Spike couldn’t quite figure how they might have made it safe whilst his Neanderthal browed GrandSire hadn’t.

Finally, Spike sighed and went into the small kitchen for the blood he’d had warming and moments later he’d finished it and returned to the computer, staring at it as though the weight of his eyes would make it cough up a letter from Xander.

It didn’t.



From: NotBroodingJustThinking
To: TheXanMan
Subject: Re: I’m in Hell. AGAIN.

Bloody hell, Xander.

This is the third time I’m replying to the same e-mail, mate, and maybe you just haven’t gotten the first two yet, but I’m trying again just in case something happened and cyberspace ate them, yeah?

I’d love to tell you I’m not worried, but you said it yourself, pet. You and the Nibblet, trapped in some bloody place without any way of getting out? Yeah, that worries me. Think you knew it would, but I’m glad you told me anyway. Be worse if you’d just disappeared on me.

Don’t know if you’re still in Missouri, Xan, but if you are, let me know. I’ll wire you some dosh to get you here, but I need to know where to send it.

Bloody Western Union prats apparently need a sodding destination, the fucks!

Fucking hell.

Don’t know what to tell you about the others, pet. Wish I did, but even if they’re trying to find you, none of them knows where I am so they wouldn’t be calling me, would they? Assuming it’d even occur to them, right? Last place they’d ever expect you to go for safety is a vampire’s lair… even if it’s a third floor lair with satellite telly and indoor plumbing.

I’m sure they’ll turn up, luv. They have to, yah? And let’s face it. Slayer’s survived more sodding apocalypses. Doubt this one could do her in. And that didn’t come off anywhere near as comforting as I thought it would.

Look, you tell Dawn… tell her that we both know big sis loves her, yeah? And we know Buffy’s going to do everything in her power to get to her. Just might take a while, what with the mess out there in Cali.

Meantime, I’m working on a surprise for the both of you. Think you’ll like it. Don’t think you’ll hate it, anywise.

Fuck, pet. Wish you’d call me, or at least write. Know you’re scared, bloke. Could feel it pouring off of the last letter, even if you hadn’t said it flat out. But Xander… you must know you’re not alone, right? Even if…

If the worst happened, you’ll still be here and when I said ‘if you need anything’, I meant just that. Not going to send you packing, either of you. I’m over a hundred years old, mate. Think you and me can handle one teenaged bloody chit, yeah? Do Joyce right proud, we will, if it comes to that.

Have an idea for finding the others, but I’ll need your help to set it up, so… everything’s waiting for you, Xan.

Not trying to put any more pressure on you. I know you’re already dealing with a sodding ton of it. But… I need you, Xander. Need you here.

I need to see the both of you and know—know—you’re safe.

Call collect, luv. As soon as you can, yeah? Just need to talk to you, and… bring you home.

Spike


He frowned slightly after he sent the letter off, then opened the document he’d been using for his notes ever since he’d gotten the idea for finding the girls… as well as the blokes who might as well have been girls.

He’d only gotten a few pages typed out, though, when he heard the small tone announcing a new message.

He tried to keep himself from getting his hopes up, but that was one thing Spike had never been good at. Even before the soul, he’d always expected things to work out… his time as the chipped non-menace aside, although even then he’d been hopeful, in a way.

So it was with wide, nearly desperate eyes that he reopened his mail program, and when he saw the message waiting, he… grinned.



From: TheXanMan
To: NotBroodingJustThinking
Subject: Moving on

God, Spike.

Sorry I haven’t gotten back to you before now. It’s been… well, you know how it’s been. Don’t want to come off like a whiner, right? It’d take too much energy anyway.

So we made it to Alliance this morning, and I know what you’re gonna say. We shouldn’t have been driving at night when Dawn and I both know about what hides in the dark.

I didn’t have much choice, though.

Finally saved up enough from that crap five dollar an hour job to get a full tank of gas, and yes, I know five bucks is less than minimum wage, but I had to take it. I couldn’t wait around for three weeks to get paid like a normal non-rushing guy; especially with no money at all. So yeah, they screwed me over, and yeah, I let them. And I was gonna wait until morning to hit the road, but when I got back to the hotel…

Well, let’s just say that Dawn was starting to express her grief, and not in a way we big brother types would approve of. So one punched young hustler later, we were in the car and on the highway. Long story, but that’s the gist of it. And no, nothing really happened. I left the diner early, thank God!

Look, don’t tell Dawny you know, okay? She’s kinda fragile.

Then again, maybe you should tell her, once we’re there. She… God, Spike, she’s so close to breaking and all I can do is hope it doesn’t happen until we’re with you and safe, and… safe. God, that’s such a great word. Maybe I’ll have it tattooed on my ass.

Or not. That might give the wrong impression, huh?

Anyway, we’re in Ohio.

I’d take you up on that whole loan thing except we’re gonna be moving on in like an hour. I… shit. I sold the car, Spike.

I know it’s just a car, but it was the last thing Anya and I bought together, y’know? Well, okay. I bought it but she picked it out. Yeah, I was whipped. What can I say? Love’s bitch sound at all familiar?

But that was then, and it’s way more important to get Dawn to you. All this traveling isn’t doing her any good. I think… she needs to be somewhere solid, Spike. Somewhere that feels permanent or at least reliable. Her whole world just disappeared, and… maybe she won’t be able to recover until she finds a new one. Or at least a way station.

Gah. Will I ever stop with the amateur analysis?

I can’t really think about the other stuff right now. You know… whether they’re still…

I need to keep it together for her, right? She’s counting on me to be strong. Or at least to be Xander, and… Xander doesn’t cry. He doesn’t lose it. He doesn’t turn into a big loser-y… loser. He just… goes with the flow and tries to smile and makes the best of things, and what difference does it make if he’s falling apart inside as long as nobody has to see it, right? Right?

Fuck. Maybe Dawn’s not the only one who needs some stability, huh? Sorry.

Anyway, we’re catching the noon train, here. It should have us at the 30th Street Station by midnight, give or take a few.

And by the way? You so weren’t kidding about the cold. Hell, that’s why the car had to go, buddy. I needed to get us some coats and that meant cash.

But we’re nice and warm now. Coats, boots, gloves, hats, scarves… fuck, I feel like that kid from ‘A Christmas Story’ and Dawn’s been bitching about going through puberty and not being able to show it, God help me. Can I say how glad I am that the store down the street from the car dealer’s is a men’s clothing store? Nothing cute or sexy there. Just… warm and loose and drab, and that’s great for now. I so couldn’t handle Dawn getting looks right now. You know… looks.

Anyway, I guess I’d better go. The guy here let me use his computer to write to you and he’s giving us a lift to the station… I think because I let him fuck me on the car.

Yeah, he totally took advantage of me. Then again, I guess I did make it kinda easy, y’know?

It’s worth almost twice what he gave me, but used car guys are like sharks. I guess he smelled the desperation. Or saw it, what with the shivering. LOL

Oh, don’t worry about us getting to you place, Spike. We’ll catch a cab at the Station, okay?

God, I… fuck, how big of a girl does it make me if I say I can’t wait to get there, Spike? Because I can’t.

Guess we’ll see you soon.

And Spike? Thanks.

For everything. Especially for taking us in, though, since you know what it’s like to live with me. LOL

Xander


He stood with a sigh and logged out of his mail, then turned and nodded at the salesman. “I really appreciate this, Bob.”

Bob Lindquist smiled, all the while trying not to feel badly for taking advantage of the young man. “Not a problem, Alexander. I was going downtown anyway. I have a lunch date, so…”

“Yeah, we should go.”

They stepped outside and Xander heaved a sigh of relief when Dawn followed without even one snarky comment. She could pout and brood as much as she wanted. He just wouldn’t be able to stand it if she started bitching. Not again.

He finished settling their things in the boot of the salesman’s car, then climbed in front, leaving the back for the teenager. He might not be very good at the whole being in charge of Dawn thing, but even he knew better than to put a pretty young girl up front with the thirty-something guy he was fairly sure had been eyeing her, even with the thick coat.


~*~*~*~*~


Spike read the e-mail and smiled. Or he did until he got to a certain passage, at which point he found himself suddenly golden eyed and ridge-browed, snarling.

“You let him what you on the what!?”

It was only when he read the following paragraphs that his demon receded and a sheepish look crossed his once again human features. “Oh… on the price. Bloody hell. Bloke’s goin’ ta be the death of me, sayin’ things like that…”

“And does he really think I’m goin’ ta let him take a soddin’ cab?” the vampire snorted as he finished reading. “Not bloody likely. Way his luck runs, he’ll hop inta a bloody car with a soddin’ serial killer and that’ll be the end of things for him and the Bit.”

Fortunately, midnight was still a long way off. More than enough time for a few bags of blood and a good bit of kip.





Part Eleven

Kent counted himself lucky that it was a Friday night. Otherwise, he might have missed his so-attractive neighbor getting home with what he assumed to be the ‘family’ Will had mentioned. The ‘family’ the blond was getting the bigger apartment for.

One reddish brow rose as he took in the two people and his lips twitched into a sly grin. If that tall, stunning brunette was any relation to the slightly shorter and more slender bottle blond, Kent would eat his own socks… after working out.

Of course, the girl… well, the girl was obviously young, but she was also tall and her hair wasn’t nearly as dark as the young man’s, but it was entirely possible that she and the brunette were related, which only left him to consider what their connection was to Will.

And then he saw one pale, elegant hand slide down from a broad, coat-covered shoulder to rest on the tall guy’s lower back, and it was all suddenly crystal clear.

Kent looked closer, noticing the way the taller man leaned ever so slightly towards Will and seeing how he was obviously paying very close attention to the blond, and…

Lovers. They had to be. And that definitely explained a lot of things, like why Will had been on his own for all the months he’d been living in the building.

Okay, the guy had what sounded like a severe sun allergy, but even so, looking like that? Any number of guys—or girls, for that matter—would have been happy to give up daylight entirely, just for the pleasure of seeing the blond by the light of the moon.

Hell, Kent had had a bit of a crush himself… until a moment earlier, when he’d seen what Will had been waiting for.

And didn’t it figure? The two hottest guys he’d seen in a long while were firmly attached to each other.

“There’s just no justice in the world,” he chuckled by way of greeting, blinking when the two brunettes jumped and spun towards him. “Uh, sorry. Didn’t mean to startle you. I’m Kent. I live right down the hall. 316.”

Xander tried not to collapse as the adrenaline left his system just as quickly as it had flooded in. “Uh… it’s okay, I…”

Spike rolled his eyes and rubbed small circles on the bloke’s back. “They’ve had a long day, mate. Drove all night last night, then been stuck on a train for the better part of today. Jumpy, is all.”

Dawn frowned and moved even closer to Xander and Spike, even as a huge yawn split her face.

“Oh, yeah. I can see how jumpy she is,” Kent said with a grin. “Anyway… guess I should leave you to… get settled in.” He gave a nod to the bags in their hands, reminding himself that the new arrivals had just gotten there and he’d surely meet them once they were more rested. And come to that, Will looked kind of worn out, too, which was just strange, considering the guy usually slept all day.

The vampire nodded, then shook his head. “Sorry. Kent, meet Xander and Dawn. They’re the family I told you was comin’ ta stay, yah? Xan, Bit… this bloke is Kent, like he said. He’s a good one, alright? You can both trust him. Hasn’t done wrong by me yet.”

And for some reason, the looks that approval got him from the newcomers had Kent blushing. “Um, just being a good neighbor. Oh, hey! Why don’t you guys come by for dinner tomorrow? I make a mean penne with marinara and grilled chicken. Or so I’ve been told.”

“True, luvs,” Spike agreed, “And it’s a bloody tradition for new people to be hosted by Kent at least once.” He waited until Xander nodded slowly, then agreed. “Right, then. Tomorrow, yah, Kent? ‘bout seven or so?”

And as that was agreeable to all, they parted ways, Kent moving down the hall to his apartment as the blond opened the door to his own and ushered his new roommates inside.


~*~*~*~*~


“I know it’s not much,” Spike began, losing his train of thought when he found himself suddenly holding a wildly sobbing Dawn. “Bit… god, Bit… so glad you’re here, pet; so glad you made it,” he heard himself murmuring, and judging by the way the girl was squeezing him, that had been exactly the right thing to say.

Xander swallowed hard and set the bags he’d been carrying down beside the front door, then moved to gather the ones Dawn had dropped in her sudden ‘squeeze the vamp to another death’ motion.

He set them with his own, then shrugged out of his coat, hat, gloves, scarf, sweater and flannel shirt, hanging them all on one wooden arm of the coat rack by the door as he looked around.

Living room… fairly basic. Couch, chair, coffee table, end table. A few lamps, but also a ceiling light fixture that was glowing softly. ‘Seventy-five watt bulbs,’ he thought abstractedly.

Computer desk against the wall and another table, this one holding some sort of… printer, maybe, although it was much bigger and looked more complicated than any he’d seen before.

Parquet floor that he knew must have taken the original craftsman months to get just right, and it was just right… or at least, the parts he could see around the edges of the forest green, navy blue and gold oriental rug were.

Three doors, all of which were open, and he could see vinyl flooring through the one off to the left, so it was a good bet that was the kitchen; the door beside the computer desk was clearly the bathroom, and the last…

He couldn’t help wondering what Spike’s bedroom looked like. After all, the only place he’d ever seen that the vampire had lived—other than Buffy’s basement and his own… and that closet of his, and who cared, right?—the only place of Spike’s that he’d seen was that old crypt back in… back in the day… and the vampire had still managed to have his comforts.

His sock-covered feet barely made a sound as he slipped past the still-crying Dawn and her comforter, and when he stood in that doorway, he found himself… surprised.

Soft woolen blankets, okay. Made sense, what with how cold Pennsylvania was, but… he couldn’t imagine Spike sleeping on flowered flannel sheets, or snuggling up with a big, floppy stuffed bunny.

The bunny actually made him laugh; mostly because Anya would have been collapsed in a shivering heap if she’d seen it, but it was such a cute bunny, and…

Xander sighed and turned away, looking at his friend and his… sister, he figured he should call her. Hell, she might as well be, considering he’d spent more time with her in the last couple years than Buffy had. Not that he minded, or that Buffy had deliberately avoided the girl, because she hadn’t. But slaying took time. More time than researching and patrolling, anyway, and add in college, and… no, Xander didn’t mind that he and Dawn had ended up being all sibling-ish. Hell, it was a good thing. At least Dawn knew he loved her.

He swallowed hard as the vampire and Dawny moved to sit on the couch, Spike whispering something that was obviously comforting because Dawn’s sobs were slowing, and when light blue eyes rose to meet his own and one pale hand reached out, he answered the invitation by moving to the sofa and joining them, bracketing the girl on her other side, feet shoving discarded gloves and so on under the coffee table.

“Nice place, Spike,” he whispered, smiling slightly as those eyes met his again over Dawn’s bowed head. “Never figured you for a floral sheets man…”

The vampire snorted softly. “They’re for the Nibblet, git. Poor pet’s goin’ ta crash and burn, yah? Been a rough time for her. Figured she could use a bit of space all her own ta do it in.”

She is sitting right here,” Dawn announced grumpily, her voice thick and hoarse from crying. Still, she was so… relieved… to finally be somewhere that wasn’t a motel or the back seat of Xander’s car, and Spike… Spike was Spike, and a little bit of home, and even though Xander had told her where they were going, she hadn’t quite believed it until they’d gotten off the train and he’d been there, and…

“Hush… hush, pigeon,” the vampire murmured, holding the girl closer as she began to cry again, though this time it was softer, less wrenching, it seemed. “You’re here, Bit. Safe and warm and home, yah? Goin’ ta look after you, we are. Me and Xan. Goin’ ta keep you safe til Slayer—Buffy—comes ta get you, we are…”

Haunted brown eyes dropped and Xander shifted closer, wrapping his arms tightly around Dawn—and Spike, too, since he was holding the girl already. “He means it, Dawny,” he whispered, “and so do I, okay? It… well, it might be a while, but she’ll come for you. Until then, just think of us as your older—much older in Spike’s case— brothers. We won’t let anything happen to you, okay?”

It was only then, after a good two minutes with no response, that the two men realized the girl had fallen asleep.

They exchanged one amused glance, then pulled slowly back before Spike stood and lifted her.

Xander followed as the girl was transported to the bedroom and he darted around Spike to pull the covers down more fully. “Um, should we…” he frowned. “Shit. She can’t sleep in that coat…”

It took minutes to get Dawn out of her warm parka, then a few more to pull the boots from her feet without waking her, and that was as far as either man was willing to go.

They covered her up, leaving her one of Spike’s t-shirts and a pair of sweat pants in case she woke and wanted out of her jeans and sweater, and once they left the room, closing the door gently, Xander frowned.

“Uh… I guess I’ll take the floor…?”

Spike snorted. “Couch pulls out, Xan. Figure we’re old enough ta share.”

He had no idea of why his heart was suddenly beating faster at those very innocent words, except… he’d been a little bit jealous when he’d seen Dawn getting all that comfort earlier, and… “I… fuck. I don’t think that’s a good idea, Spike,” he forced himself to say, biting his lip when he felt the blond’s eyes on him… and how bizarre was it that he could feel Spike’s gaze?

“Why?” the vampire whispered, taking half a step to put him a mere hair’s breadth from the so-tempting heat of Xander’s body. “Because you might break, pet?” he murmured, one hand finding the small of the bloke’s back, “Or because you know you will, hmmm?”

Xander shivered and froze against the deep, sudden desire to press back into that hand. “I… both, I think,” he admitted, his voice hitching roughly. “I’m just so… fuck, Spike, I can’t… she needs me to be strong! I told you before, when I wrote, and I…”

Spike frowned and stepped back from the boy who was so much more a man after just a few months that he wondered how much Xander hadn’t been telling him, and he… sighed. “I know, luv. But you can’t be strong for her when you’ve got all that pain and worry and fear buildin’ up inside you. Has ta come out sometime, yah?” He smiled sadly and shoved the coffee table out of the way, then started pulling the cushions from the couch.

He knew Spike was right. Knew it deep in his bones, even, and yet there was a part of him that was crying out that needing comfort and affection and a friend who would hold him and let him unburden himself made him… weak, a sissy-boy, nothing but a fucking faggot, gonna show you what being a faggot is, you sorry little shit… worthless. That that part of his psyche had a voice that sounded just like his father’s made him shudder.

Xander shivered more, but joined Spike in pulling out the mattress part of the sofa-bed, and when the blond stripped down to nothing but boxers, Xander followed, although he kept his t-shirt on.

Spike cocked his head but accepted the ongoing silence. Xander was obviously deep in thought, after all, and… he slipped into bed, pulling the covers up to just below his ribs, then arched a brow, meeting Xander’s disturbed eyes.

“Don’t have any more blankets and such, mate. If you want ta curl up on the rug like a bloody dog, feel free. Rather you crawled in with me, though. Not like it’s a big deal, right?”

His eyes watched one almost delicate hand flip back the covers and Xander nodded slowly, pushing the internal voice away as he accepted the offer and settled in tensely on his back, thick wool covering him to his chest. “I… sorry, Spike. It’s just been…”

“Rough,” Spike finished for him, his voice sympathetic and understanding, “Know that, pet…” And fuck the bloke’s determination to stay at a distance. Xander was too tight, too tense, too… clenched inside to know what he needed. So Spike did the only thing he could think of to help his friend.

He moved swiftly, rolling onto that nearly vibrating form. His arms wrapped tightly around it, enhanced strength easily resisting the human’s attempts to dislodge him, and “Not alone, Xan… not alone, luv… promise you, pet, you’re not alone… right here with you, aren’t I? Not goin’ ta send you away, Xander. Not ever. Not you, and not the Bit…”

It felt like he’d been muttering for hours when that tanned, toned body finally stopped fighting him; when those strong, warm arms finally rose to enfold him… and when he smelled the first soft tinge of salt and knew his bloke was finally letting go of the iron clamp on his emotions, Spike just held on harder and prepared to weather at least the beginning of the storm.





Part Twelve

There was a moment when he was not quite awake and still caught in safe-sleeping-safe… when the cool body spooned up behind him seemed right and true and pure… when having that same toned form practically wrapped around him, pressing always closer, seemed… perfect.

Xander slowly struggled towards consciousness, a small, unhappy mumble leaving his lips when that presence moved. Then he grumbled and rolled into the not-warm spot that had been left behind and it was almost as good as the body had been. Almost, because the cool spot was warming too quickly for his sleep-muddled liking.

He’d been snuggling quite happily with Xander when he’d heard the small knock, and he had no idea of whether his pet knew how bloody wonderfully warm he was. Still, the knock, and if he hadn’t gotten up to answer it, it might have come back louder, and the last thing he needed was for either of his loves to be woken so soon. They’d been on the run for almost two weeks, after all, and now that they were somewhere safe, they needed to sleep themselves out.

So he’d gotten up and gone to the door, opening it when he saw Kent through the peep-hole.

“Yah?” he demanded, “It’s not seven yet, is it?”

Kent had the grace to look ashamed. “No… I’m sorry, Will, I just… I didn’t know you guys were still all…” His eyes traveled slowly over the boxer-clad form before darting past the blond to observe the large lump on the pull-out. “Um. I was just wondering if you have any balsamic? I could go out, but I thought… you know what, never mind. I’ll just…”

Xander struggled from his lingering doze and frowned muzzily as the words went on. Finally he got up and nearly staggered his way to the door, sighing happily as he shored up against Spike’s back, his skin relishing the coolness.

And when had he lost his own shirt?

It was a thought, but not one of any importance, he figured, so he let himself lean closer still and gazed at the intruder over Spike’s shoulder.

“Hmmm… Kent, right? Wha…” he yawned, “what’s up?”

Spike chuckled and pressed lightly back into the heat of Xander’s body. “Bloke wants ta borrow some vinegar, luv… go back ta bed, yah?”

The brunette mumbled softly then rested his head against soft bleached hair. “Nnnngh… Yeah…”

Blue eyes danced as Xander stumbled back to the sofa-bad and snuggled in, and it was a good minute or so later that Kent’s throat-clearing reminded Spike that the human was even there, followed swiftly by the why.

“Right,” he muttered almost sheepishly, “wait here. Be right back.”

It took him a good few minutes to find the brand new bottle of balsamic amongst all the other human food he’d ordered in for his Xan and the Bit. Finally he did, though, and returned to the doorway. “Here. We’ll see you at seven, yah?”

Spike closed the door and locked it, not even waiting for a response. He was cold again, after all, and Xander… oh, Xander was like a living, breathing heating coil.

He wrapped himself tightly around the bloke, eyes closing as the warmth crept into him.

Bloody hell…

He hadn’t been planning on letting Xander go without a fight even before he’d known the boy was a sodding heat machine, but now… oh, now he was going to fight harder.

It would have to be a subtle fight, Spike knew, but… maybe, if he worked at it hard enough, the boy wouldn’t want to leave… not even if his friends showed up and offered him a new life. Another new life.

“Goin’ ta try ta keep you, pet,” Spike whispered against one pink ear, and he smiled when he felt the tiny bit of tension still left in the sleeping body… ease.

Oh, his boy wanted to be kept… and that worked just fine for him.

Keep Xander, keep the Bit… in different ways, granted, but…

“Be family,” he murmured, smiling more when the word earned him a slow arch.

Yeah… life would be good. Soon enough.


~*~*~*~*~


He woke slowly, and even when he was almost entirely convinced that he was still dreaming, he couldn’t help but smile. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d woken up without being covered in a fine sheen of sweat, but he wasn’t and it felt… good.

Not as good as the cool form draped over him, but he wasn’t going to examine that realization too closely… or any time soon.

“Spike,” he mumbled, “get back on your own side of the bed…”

And sadly, that lusciously tempting body heat was slowly dropping back towards normal human temperature, which was just… depressing. “Fine,” the vampire grumbled, “You’re coolin’ off anyway. Not much point in stayin’ here if you’re just goin’ ta get all… normal again.”

Xander couldn’t help it. He laughed. “Okay, can I just say you’re the first person who hasn’t complained that I get too hot when I sleep? Um… and I guess I didn’t mind that you’re all cool and stuff, either.” He felt the blush rising on his skin and looked away.

Spike chuckled quietly, even as he rolled from his boy. “Matched set, we are,” he answered before pushing the covers back and almost jumping to his feet. “Fresh towels in the bathroom, mate. Blue for you, red for the Bit. Green ones are mine, yah? New toothbrushes and whatnot in the cabinet. Wasn’t sure you’d need ‘em, but figured it couldn’t hurt. I’m goin’ ta check on our girl. Want somethin’ ta eat?”

“Pizza?” the brunette asked, mind still making its way through the jumble of words Spike had just let out.

The blond snorted. “Might do for you, bloke, but Nibblet needs somethin’ more… breakfast-like. Was thinkin’ of makin’ waffles. Or pancakes. That sort of thing.”

Xander blinked and sat up, his bladder suddenly reminding him that he’d been asleep for… “What time is it? And… you cook? Since when do you cook?”

“Closin’ on one, and yah. Dru had a thing for human food for a while; made sure I could find my way around a kitchen. And before you ask, yah. I’ll leave out the blood.”


~*~*~*~*~


The bath he was longing for the moment he saw the big sunken tub hadn’t happened, simply because Xander had a feeling there would be a very anxious young girl banging on the door soon. Dawn had been sleeping just as long as he had, after all, he assumed.

Instead, he’d taken a quick shower, and it was still one of the best experiences he’d ever had. He’d hated showering in the motels they’d stayed at on the road; mostly because he had little or no faith in the cleanliness created by the so-called maid service, which was usually the owner’s kid with a bottle of Windex, if they were lucky.

So yeah, short as it was, it was amazing to wash up without having to worry about what might be on his feet from the tub, not to mention the floor.

Of course, once he got out he realized that he’d forgotten to bring any clothes into the bathroom aside from the boxers he’d been wearing, and even if he had brought some, they’d be dirty, and… “So need to do laundry,” he sighed before wrapping ‘his’ towel around his hips, brushing his teeth, then opening the door to step out into the living room.

“Jeez, it’s about time, Xander,” the vaguely Dawn-ish blur complained, the words punctuated by the slamming of the bathroom door.

Brown eyes crinkled at the corners and Xander laughed. “Just be glad I didn’t take that bath I wanted, Dawny!” he called to the closed door. “What?” he asked when turning had him face to face with a stunned-looking blond. “Do I have something on me?”

Spike shook his head and swallowed hard. “Nah… nah, pet. Just wonderin’ if you’re auditionin’ for a towel model job I didn’t know about.” Of course, that wasn’t entirely true, but he figured he should let Xander get more settled in before he asked him about the scars on his back.

“Oh, ha-ha. Very funny, Bleachboy. A laugh riot, even. Nice to see you’re as clever as always.” And just like that they were back to normal.


~*~*~*~*~


Laundry was done in the room at the end of the hall. Each floor apparently had its own facilities, which definitely made things easier, although Spike had claimed ignorance of the room’s exact location.

“Fluff-n-fold, mate. Two blocks over. But you’re in a hurry, so self-service it is.”

And how funny was it that after more than a hundred years, Spike still didn’t know how to do laundry?

Obviously very funny, judging from the teasing Dawn was subjecting the vampire to.

Xander almost wanted to tell her to stop, but he just couldn’t. He hadn’t seen her smile like she meant it since well before she’d woken up in his car almost two weeks earlier, and… and the look on Spike’s face said that he suspected something of the sort, as well; so they both just put up with it. The vampire snarked and grumped, but he did it with the light of amusement and… relief, maybe?... in his eyes.

“Um, aren’t we supposed to bring something?” Dawn asked uncertainly, interrupting her own most recent poke at the blond. “To… Kent’s? I… Mom always said it was rude to just show up, and…” She blinked back the tears that hadn’t been far from the surface since they’d first heard about Sunnydale, her crying jag the night before not withstanding.

“Could always just let the bloke keep the vinegar, I suppose,” Spike allowed with a wink for Xander.

Big eyes rolled and Dawn huffed. “Spike! That’s not a gift! Jeez, don’t you know anything? It has to be, like… wine. Or dessert or something! You know, something good!”

Xander chuckled softly as the girl disappeared into the kitchen, the sounds of cupboard doors opening and closing following soon after. “You did that on purpose, didn’t you?” he murmured, giving Spike an arch look.

The blond smirked. “Of course I did, pet. She needed somethin’ ta take her mind off… things. Figure she’ll come across one of the bottles of red and we’ll be all set. Besides, this way…”

“She gets to feel useful,” the young man finished, giving Spike an admiring gaze. “You know… you’re much smarter than you look, buddy. Then again, I’m much smarter than you look.” He winked.

“Hey!”


~*~*~*~*~


Dinner had gone well, although they’d discovered that Kent was no more immune to the Dawn-pout than either of them were.

Still, pout or not, Xander and Spike had both refused when the girl asked if she could have some wine, too.

It was the fact that they were so in agreement that had them sitting companionably on the couch a few hours later while Dawn was asleep again in Spike’s bedroom.

The vampire snorted as yet another improbable car chase began on the telly, then shifted a bit, trying to get comfortable. “Sorry,” he muttered when the movement earned him a curious glance, “usually lie down to watch. Not used to this.”

Well, and it was Spike’s place, so… “Go ahead, buddy. It’s not like it’ll bother me. I’ll just…” ‘sit on the floor’ he’d been about to say, but when there was a blond head resting suddenly on his thigh, he gave a mental shrug and leaned back into the cushions. “Hard to believe this couch is so comfortable. I mean, I had a sofa-bed once and it was…”

“A piece of crap?” Spike offered with a small grin, “Lumpier than your Mum’s six day old gravy, assumin’ she ever bothered to pull herself out of the bottle long enough ta cook?” It wasn’t until he felt Xander tense that he realized what he’d said. “Oh… bloody hell. Sorry, Xan. Didn’t think. I mean, maybe they got…”

How could he be so fucking stupid? The boy had just gotten there and already he was reminding him of everything that he’d lost! Bloody hell. I’m a moron. Serve me right if he up and leaves.

“Got out?” Xander sighed and rested a hand on Spike’s side when the vampire would have gotten up. “I doubt it. Unless someone went to them and said ‘hey, the world’s about to end so you might want to make tracks’, they were probably still sitting in the living room tossing them back when it all went… to hell. Even if someone did tell them, they probably wouldn’t have believed it. Or remembered it for long enough to do them any good.” He sighed again.

The worst part wasn’t that his parents were most likely dead, or even that he hadn’t thought of warning them himself although he was fairly certain that that made him the worst son ever.

No, the worst part—the part he barely wanted to admit to himself, much less Spike—was that… he didn’t care. After everything his parents had put him through, the things his Dad alone had… he truly didn’t care whether they were dead or alive.

His fingers moved without conscious direction until he found himself stroking surprisingly soft blond hair and Xander shook his head, pushing the thoughts away.

“Oh, hey,” he murmured as the movie went to commercial break, “You said something about… you have an idea for finding the others?”

Spike nodded slowly, taking great care not to dislodge that stroking hand. “Yah… show you later, right? Don’t feel like movin’ at the mo’.”

And since it was well past midnight, Xander didn’t have a problem with that, although… “We’re gonna have to move eventually. We’re sitting on our bed.” Now, why the hell did that make him feel so… he didn’t know what, but so something. Something unexpected, he was sure, and possibly unrecognizable because of it.

“Later, luv,” the vampire mumbled, rubbing his cheek lightly against denim as he reveled in the soft, gentle touches to his head.




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